The Potluck

Lawmakers approve $500 million renovation for State Office Building

By: - December 21, 2022 2:06 pm

A sketch of the renovated State Office Building by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Screenshot from Minnesota Legislature.

A panel of Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday approved nearly $500 million for renovation of the State Office Building, which is home to the offices of the state’s 134 House members and key staff, as well as conference rooms to host public hearings.  

A Republican legislator called the move “egregious” and said lawmakers signed off on building the “Taj Mahal” of office space.

The House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee approved the spending for renovations to the State Office Building, which is across the street from the state Capitol, along party lines. Republicans decried the $500 million plan, which cost more than last decade’s Capitol renovation and construction of the Senate Office Building combined.

The money comes from a little noted provision offered as a floor amendment in the final days of the 2021 legislative session, when a DFL-controlled House and GOP-majority Senate allowed a Capitol area building committee to issue bonds.

The DFL-majority highlighted the renovations needed for the 90-year-old Roman Renaissance 1932 building, including basic upgrades to reduce safety hazards, increase security and make it more accessible for people with disabilities.

“Obviously, this is a significant change on the Capitol complex and it comes at a significant cost,” said outgoing House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “The emphasis here is on serving public access safely … We can either be open and unsafe … or we can expand and improve our building.”

The renovation includes building an addition that would increase the footprint from about 290,000 to 456,000 square feet. Most of the additional space would go toward expanding committee hearing rooms, which are used during the legislative session for the public to testify on proposed legislation.

The DFL’s approval of expenditures for politicians’ office space could have political repercussions. In 2014, Democrats approved construction of the new $90 million Senate Office Building, which Republicans used to attack them during the midterm election. Democrats lost control of the House that year.

Republicans on Wednesday urged Democrats to pause and reconsider the proposal.

“I just think we have failed Minnesotans if we think that this process and the egregiousness of the size of this project is an acceptable way to conduct business here in the Legislature,” said outgoing GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt. “This number is far beyond what I was expecting. It’s shocking.”

Daudt later told reporters that he believed the public wouldn’t react well to the massive spending. “How can you justify taking this amount of money to upgrade office space for 134 public servants and creating a Taj Mahal-type office space?”

Winkler, who is leaving office after an unsuccessful run for Hennepin County attorney, shrewdly got the building approved by the panel while providing political cover to the incoming DFL House caucus. Because the original bonding authority was approved by a Republican Senate, Democrats can deflect political attacks. The new DFL members won’t have to vote on the new building. And, in a pinch, they can lay the blame on Winkler.

Winkler said construction could start in January 2024 and be completed in time to be used for the 2027 legislative session.

The Revisor of Statutes, Legislative Reference Library, Legislative Coordinating Commission, Legislative Budget Office, Joint Commissions, the Secretary of State and House of Representatives are all tenants of the State Office Building.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.